Culture is based on the uniquely human capacity to classify experiences, encode such classifications symbolically, and teach such abstractions to others. It is usually acquired through enculturation, the process through which an older generation induces and compels a younger generation to reproduce the established lifestyle; consequently, culture is embedded in a person's way of life. Culture is difficult to quantify, because it frequently exists at an unconscious level, or at least tends to be so pervasive that it escapes everyday thought. This is one reason that anthropologists tend to be skeptical of theorists who attempt to study their own culture. Anthropologists employ fieldwork and comparative, or cross-cultural, methods to study various cultures. Ethnographies may be produced from intensive study of another culture, usually involving protracted periods of living among a group. Ethnographic fieldwork generally involves the investigator assuming the role of participant-observer: gathering data by conversing and interacting with people in a natural manner and by observing people's behavior unobstrusively. Ethnologies use specialized monographs in order to draw comparisons among various cultures.
Investigations have arisen from belief in many different theories of culture and have often given voice to new theoretical bases for approaching the elusive term. Many early anthropologists conceived of culture as a collection of traits and studied the diffusion, or spread, of these traits from one society to another. Critics of diffusionism, however, pointed out that the theory failed to explain why certain traits spread and others do not. Cultural evolution theory holds that traits have a certain meaning in the context of evolutionary stages, and they look for relationships between material culture and social institutions and beliefs. These theorists classify cultures according to their relative degree of social complexity and employ several economic distinctions (foraging, hunting, farming, and industrial societies) or political distinctions (autonomous villages, chiefdoms, and states). Critics of this theory argue that the use of evolution as an explanatory metaphor is flawed, because it tends to assume a certain direction of development, with an implicit apex at modern, industrial society. Ecological approaches explain the different ways that people live around the world not in terms of their degree of evolution but rather as distinct adaptations to the variety of environments in which they live. They also demonstrate how ecological factors may lead to cultural change, such as the development of technological means to harness the environment. Structural-functionalists posit society as an integration of institutions (such as family and government), defining culture as a system of normative beliefs that reinforces social institutions. Some criticize this view, which suggests that societies are naturally stable (see functionalism). Historical-particularists look upon each culture as a unique result of its own historical processes. Symbolic anthropology looks at how people's mental constructs guide their lives. Structuralists analyze the relationships among cultural constructs of different societies, deriving universal mental patterns and processes from the abstract models of these relationships. They theorize that such patterns exist independent of, and often at odds with, practical behavior. Many theories of culture have been criticized for assuming, intentionally or otherwise, that all people in any one society experience their culture in the same way. Today, many anthropologists view social order as a fragile accomplishment that various members of a society work at explaining, enforcing, exploiting, or resisting. They have turned away from the notion of elusive "laws" of culture that often characterizes cross-cultural analyses to the study of the concrete historical, political, and economic forces that structure the relations among cultures. Important theorists on culture have included Franz Boas, Emile Durkheim, Ruth Benedict, and Clifford Geertz.
See studies by G. W. Stocking, Jr. (1968), R. Wagner (1981), M. S. Archer (1988), A. Hallowell (1988), and R. Rosaldo (1989).
In British English it is specifically defined as being where two roads cross each other (there are exactly 4 arms). Unlike the terms road intersection and road junction, crossroads is used in a more figurative or poetic sense (similar to fork in the road).
Originally the blues "Crossroads" was a literal right-angle crossing of two railroads - "where the Southern cross the Dog" - in Moorhead, Mississippi. The "Southern" was a line of the Southern Railway, sold to the Columbus and Greenville Railway in 1920, and the "Dog" was the "Yellow Dog", officially the Yazoo Delta Railroad, part of the Illinois Central Railroad system after 1897. This place is mentioned in a number of blues, including the recorded works of W. C. Handy and Bessie Smith.
This is particularly pronounced in conjure, rootwork, and hoodoo, a form of African American magical spirituality. In conjure practice, it is said that in order to acquire facility at various manual and body skills, such as playing a musical instrument, throwing dice, or dancing, one may attend upon a crossroads a certain number of times, either at midnight or just before dawn,and one will meet a "black man," whom some call the Devil, who will bestow upon one the desired skills. Evidence of this practice can be found in 20th century blues songs, such as Sold It to the Devil by Black Spider Dumpling (John D. Twitty). Although many modern listeners believe that the premier song about soul-selling at a crossroads is Crossroads Blues by Robert Johnson, the song may be a description of standing at a cross roads and trying to "flag a ride" or hitch-hike; the sense of foreboding coming from the singer's apprehension of finding himself, a young black man in the 1920s deep south, alone after dark and at the mercy of passing motorists. Others believe Robert Johnson sang this song in regards to the deal that was made with Legba in which Johnson exchanged his soul for his extraordinary guitar skills that seemed to appear suddenly. It should be noted, however that the idea of selling your soul for instrumental skills pre-dates the American South as several virtuoso classical musicians such as Paganini had stories told about selling their soul for music prowess (and that story may reference back to medieval troubadour doing something similar). The selling your soul for guitar power story has become a staple in both rock and metal guitarists.
Crossroads are very important both in Brazilian mythology (related to the headless mule, the devil, the Besta Fera and the Brazilian version of the werewolf) and religions (as the favourite place for the manifestation of "left-hand" entities such as Exus and where to place offerings to the Orishas).
There is also the now illegal tradition within England of burying criminals (particularly suicides) at crossroads. This may have been due to the crossroads marking the boundaries of the settlement coupled with a desire to bury those outside of the law outside the settlement, or that the many roads would confuse the dead. (See also Burial)
Symbolically, the crossroads can be used as a metaphor for the afterlife.